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When Spit Becomes Rain
4/13/2016 4:19:08 PM

By Barney Blakeney 

Like most people, I don’t like to be criticized. But who’s perfect, so we all get criticized sometimes. My editor recently showed me an email from a guy criticizing a story about water quality concerns on Wadmalaw Island. In this business, if you can’t take criticism, go home. I take it, chew on it, then either swallow or spit it out.

The Barney in me at first side-stepped the criticism; then, professional Barney kicked in. Ya gotta look at that stuff. It’s how you get better. Look at the stuff, recognize the mistakes then make adjustments. Of course you’ve got to stay on point because folks come at you for various reasons, not all of them positive.

So this guy is ripping me a new one because he didn’t agree with what was outlined in the Wadmalaw Water story. He said the article was “poorly written”. That ticked me off!

Hey homeboy, Ms. Deas, Mrs. McPherson, Ms. Freeman (at Mary Ford Elem.), Mrs. Orr and Miss Williams (at C.A. Brown High) taught me how to write! I don’t do “poorly written”. I may get off base from time to time (yes, I make mistakes!), but rarely do I write poorly. My teachers won’t allow it.

I wrote the Wadmalaw Water story after the Flint, Mich. lead tainted water story drew national attention. Like many reporters who cover Black communities, I realized the Flint water quality issue ain’t news.

Black folks’ communities have been suffering intentional and accepted pollution for generations. Me and the fellas Saturday at Wesley quipped about how Massa got the ham and Black slaves got the guts. And turned them into a soul food delicacy!

Anyway, my critic went on about how the story was filled with statements (quotes from reliable sources) unsupported by data. He got me on one issue - I committed a reporter’s cardinal sin in not double checking the information obtained from those sources. The late John All, one of the best editor’s I’ve ever met, taught me that one. Always do your own research, he’d say.

I trusted my sources and stand by my decision to quote them without support from the technical data. I chose that route because as a Black person in America, I know that technical data often doesn’t tell the real story.

The story said ‘many’ shallow wells are contaminated. My critic chose to pick bones about how many is many, and what contaminants were found in official tests.

Does that brother actually think Black folks trust the official tests when they know that they get sick and suffer diseases and cancers because of our polluted environments? Modern communities have chosen to get water from sources other than individual wells because most believe ‘city water’ offer opportunities for better water quality. The folks in Awendaw and Hollywood are examples.

I remember as a kid riding through Daniel Jenkins Project at King Street Extension and Azalea Drive seeing the buildings covered in white dust from the fertilizer plant. Delbert DuBois fought for years to get the accurate data supporting claims the contaminants were causing illnesses the establishment refused to acknowledge.

Back in the 1980s, Mrs. Janie Moore Jones fought tooth and nail to get relief for Peter Field residents whose Yonges Island water wells were contaminated.

Finally, DHEC reported some of the wells contained fecal matter. I was out there one day covering a story and the resident, in her usual hospitable manner, offered me a cold glass of iced tea. All I could think of was where that water had come. And yes I drank the iced tea. Irene raised me right - even if it meant drinking iced tea colored brown by I don’t know what.

My critic seems to imply that the water quality on Wadmalaw Island ain’t so bad. Well, residents say they buy bottled water because they don’t trust it. And Charleston County government is trucking drinking water to them at the behest of council members Anna Johnson and Henry Darby. A February 15 Post and Courier news headline called water conditions on Wadmalaw Island “third world”.

My critic is a member of the Wadmalaw Island Land Planning Committee. The guy said I should educate myself. Well, growing up Black in America did that. And that education has taught me that Black folks shouldn’t trust folks who say things aren’t as bad as they think when the exploitation of land and labor are at stake.

From 2014 to 2015 the median sale price of homes on Wadmalaw Island went up from $415,000 to $467,000 representing more than a 12 percent increase.

Even Stevie Wonder can see where things are going on Wadmalaw Island. It’s one of the last frontiers for undeveloped land in the county.

I don’t mind criticism. But don’t spit on me and call it rain.

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